Thursday, August 25, 2016

Seeing Your Students

One of the aspects of CI/TPRS which I have loved the most has been creating stories with my students as the main characters. Quite honestly, it has been for selfish reasons, because when I was learning Latin in high school back in the 80's, my textbook had no stories but rather very stilted sentences like "On the island, the farmer carries water to the daughter of the sailor" (which if the sentence were part of a story would actually be rather compelling). For me, using students as characters in a story is what makes the reading interesting and compelling for them. How I wish that my Latin teacher would have made Latin stories about my classmates and me!

From my students' perspective though, I now realize that when I create stories about them, they are not thinking, "Wow, this story is really compelling because we are in it. I am so glad Mr. Toda did that, because now the reading is so much more interesting." No, my students rather are thinking, "Wow, this story is about ME. Mr. Toda actually wrote a story in Latin about ME!"

Bryce Hedstrom, in his "Feeling Like a Citizen" presentation, quotes Matthew Lieberman:
Food, water, and shelter are not the most basic needs...Instead, being socially connected and cared for is paramount… our need for connection is the bedrock upon which the others are built.”  
                                                        - Matthew Lieberman, Social, p. 43
Mother Teresa says it best:
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.
Just recently, my colleague Rachel Ash was writing an article on Comprehensible Input for submission to an online classical journal. When I asked her what she was going to include, Rachel said, "The main three parts of CI - comprehensibility, compelling, and caring." I was a little taken aback by her answer, because although I knew that it was important to deliver comprehensible, compelling messages, I had never heard about the "caring" aspect. Rachel continued, "Caring is what lowers the affective filter for students." I had never thought about it that way, but she is so right. When we as teachers "see" students for who they are and gain their trust, then they feel connected, thus their affective filter (and walls) lowers.

When I first started TPRS years ago, I lasted only 6 weeks before I gave it up and returned back to the textbook due to not knowing what I was doing. I only returned back to TPRS, because students were asking me, "When are you going to tell those stories again about US?" I have come to the realization that personalization of stories is one way to tell students "I see you." In the beginning of the school year, I am very selective of which students I make characters in my story, because I do not want to embarrass anyone or to bring unwanted attention. What I love though is over the course of the year hearing students gradually say, "When am I going to be in one of your stories?" In other words, they want to be part of the community now.

In a CI classroom, there are many ways to personalize the curriculum for students:
  1. Creating stories about students 
  2. Asking students for suggestions as to where the story should go (Asking a Story/TPRS)
  3. Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs)
  4. Student jobs, such as the light monitor, grammar experts, word counter.
  5. Special Person Interview
  6. Social Emotional Learning
However, there are many other simple ways you can let your students know you "see" them outside of CI/TPRS.
  1. Greet every students by name when they enter the room. This actually sounds so basic, but if you really think about it, I wonder how many students' teachers actually greet them at the door BY NAME (I wonder how many teachers actually greet their students at the door). One's name is so personal to a person. To me, a basic greeting without a name can be blown off, but it is difficult to ignore when someone greets you by name. I always make it a point to stand outside my classroom every period and welcome each student individually with a smile by saying "Good morning/afternoon, _________" in English. I suppose that I should say it in Latin, but greeting them in English is important to me and a non-negotiable. It is even all the more important for me to greet students who have given me "trouble" in class or with whom I have had to talk after class the day before. I need for them to know that I am not mad at them and that I still value them as part of the community. Just recently, I was not able to greet a number of my students, because I had to reply to some emails. A girl who has been rather reserved with both me and the class came to me before the bell rang, saying, "You weren't at the door to say 'Hello' to me this morning." I was absolutely floored, and believe me, I was there the next day to greet her!
  2. Find out your students' interests and talk to them about it. I have a student who loves Pokemon Go. I have a basic idea of the app but have no clue what a Pokemon is (I thought that Snorlax was a nighttime, sleep aid), let alone would I try to catch one. However, at the end of class when there are a few minutes left, this student loves to come to my desk and to talk with me about the new Pokemon Go characters which he has caught, which ones he has yet to get, etc. Why, when he knows that I know nothing about Pokemon and have no real interest in Pokemon Go? Simply put: Because I enjoy listening to him tell me about it. Believe me, I am always asking him questions, and he gladly answers, even though he knows that I do not have a clue what he is talking about. However, because Pokemon Go is important to him, it is important to me, and I want to support him in this. 
  3. Talk WITH your students in class (in the target language or in English). I cannot tell you how many students have told me, "You're the only teacher who talks with us. Most teachers talk AT us." Students want a dialogue in the classroom between them and the teacher. Ask the class about their weekend, if they went to the school football game, who saw a particular movie, etc. Even better, tell them what YOU did over the weekend, what movie you saw, etc. Tell your students a story about yourself from when you were in school. Believe me, it both personalizes and humanizes you as a person in their eyes.
By no means am I an expert on this topic. Check out the following people such as Laurie Clarcq, Bob Patrick, Grant Boulanger, and Bryce Hedstrom who all know so much more about this, and I certainly know that they could state what I just wrote so much more expansively and eloquently.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

EDPuzzle and MovieTalk

The following is taken from my presentation "Technology in the Comprehensible Input Classroom," which I gave this summer at both the ACL Summer Institute and IFLT conference.

I love doing MovieTalk in my classes, and quite honestly, I do not know why it took me so long to implement this CI strategy (actually I do - read my recent blog post about Movie Talks). This past summer at IFLT, I got the chance to observe both Annabelle Allen facilitate a Movie Talk in Spanish, and Katya Paukova demonstrate one in Russian. As I know neither languages well, the Movie Talks kept me engaged in the language acquisition process. 

However, whenever I have done a Movie Talk, although I was able to use the movie itself as a pre-reading activity to teach vocabulary and language structures, I never really did anything with the movie afterwards or implemented any type of formative assessment with students to determine the Movie Talk's efficacy.  

During my graduate courses in Instructional Technology, I learned about EDPuzzle, an online tool which allows students to interact with videos as they view them (N.B. Zaption is no longer around but if you have already created lessons with Zaption, you can import them into EDPuzzle. Click here to find out how). While EDPuzzle is promoted as way to implement a flipped classroom, when I saw this tool, immediately I thought, "I could use this after a Movie Talk! I can actually pause the movie in the same exact places where I had paused during the Movie Talk and now see what students acquired (if anything) as a result."

Below is an example of an EdPuzzle formative assessment which I created for a Movie Talk demo this summer at the ACL Summer Institute and IFLT. Because it was a demo, this Movie Talk only used a 24-second clip, but the target Latin vocabulary words were avis (bird), currit (runs), and cibus (food). As stated earlier, the EDPuzzle video pauses in the same exact place where I had paused the movie during Movie Talk.

  1. In the beginning, it can take awhile to create your first EdPuzzle video, because there are lots of tools which you can implement - cropping of videos, add both written and audio questions, etc. Like any tool, though, the more one uses it, the easier and quicker it becomes to create an EDPuzzle activity. 
  2. Students like being asked a formative question in an EDPuzzle video at the very same place where you asked a circling question during Movie Talk, because it seems familiar for them. 
  3. BUT there is no need to pause and to ask EVERY single question from a Movie Talk in an EdPuzzle video. Just pick the highlights.
  4. You can either use EDPuzzle as an in-class activity or as a self-paced activity for students to do on their own. 
  5. If your school is a 1:1 school, then EDPuzzle is a great tool. As I teach at a BYOD school, when using EDPuzzle as an in-class activity, I will reserve a class set of laptops for students to use. Although students can do this activity on their smartphones or tablets, as we know, a disparity of technological capabilities exists among devices. I would prefer that all students have the same access for this activity, hence, in my opinion, the need for uniformity among devices. 
  6. Because it is a formative assessment, I am only interested in what students acquired/did not acquire from the Movie Talk, i.e. what words/structures do I still need to target more and to get in more meaningful repetitions? 
  7. In order to preserve the novelty, I do not implement EDPuzzle after every Movie Talk which I do, because I do not want students to resent a Movie Talk if they feel like they have to do some type of assessment afterwards.

Friday, August 12, 2016

My CI Family Tree

A few weeks ago at NTPRS, Michelle Kindt (who by the way is an absolutely wonderful CI teacher, presenter, and coach!) posted the following on Twitter.

As a result, a number of folks began to tweet about their various CI "family trees" and who that special person was who introduced them to CI. I have decided to dedicate this blog post to honor those people who have been vital in my CI journey these past few years:

Bob Patrick - I would consider Bob to be my CI "father" for so many reasons. Bob was the first Latin teacher whom I knew that was involved in CI/TPRS. When I first started teaching Latin in the late 90's, I was all about grammar-translation, as that was how I had been taught Latin, and that was the only methodology which I knew; quite honestly, I did not know that anything else existed for Latin pedagogy. Around the early-mid 2000's, on various online listservs, the idea of active spoken Latin in the classroom began to emerge. Bob was involved in many of these discussions, speaking about the merits of CI/TPRS as a method to implement oral Latin. I was VEHEMENTLY opposed to the idea of any type of spoken Latin in the classroom, because in my opinion, why should Latin be spoken? I certainly had never experienced anything like that, so why should I do it since Latin was only meant to be a "read" language? At this point, I only knew Bob superficially through online exchanges, but soon, he became a Latin teacher in my district (and suddenly I was his children's Latin teacher!). Eventually in 2008, out of curiosity I attended my first 2-day Blaine Ray TPRS workshop in Dallas. When I told Bob that I was planning on attending this workshop, according to him, he was absolutely floored and shocked to hear that I, who was so adamantly opposed to spoken Latin at the time, would even consider this. For the next few years, I dabbled in TPRS but found it difficult to maintain the momentum. In the summer of 2013, I attended three CI workshops led by Bob, and that is where I learned specifically about CI and the various methods of implementation (of which TPRS is just one). In my opinion, that summer is where my CI journey officially began. Fast forward to this past February, where Bob asked me join him as the 5th Latin teacher at his school, and now as a result, I am working alongside Bob and three other CI Latin teachers (Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, and Caroline Miklosovic) at Parkview High School, where the Latin enrollment is around 700 students. Yes, I, who was once the biggest opponent of any spoken Latin and CI, am now one of its biggest advocates and am teaching with Bob!   

Although I consider Bob my CI "father," I also realize that it took a village to nurture me in those early days (and current days too). The following are those who were part of that village:

Betsy Paskvan - NTPRS 2014 was the first CI conference which I ever attended. I was the sole Latin teacher in attendance at the conference that year, and I was feeling rather lost, because not only was I "alone," but I still felt like a "newcomer to the CI party." That all changed, however, with my extended session on Day 1 with Betsy Paskvan, who was teaching Japanese. Although I struggled with Japanese in that first hour, I remember how incredibly positive Betsy was during that time and how seamlessly she was implementing CI through various activities so that four hours later, I was actually retelling a story in Japanese on my own and was able to write my own 5-6 sentence story in the language. Because I was learning another language via CI and experiencing it firsthand like a student, due to Betsy, I now knew that CI was the real thing. Whenever I hear that folks are attending NTPRS, I always make it a point to tell them to attend Betsy's Japanese sessions because of how incredible she is!

Laurie Clarcq - Laurie has one of the biggest hearts around and is also one of the positively funniest people too; she is the type of person who does not try to be funny but just is. I could repeatedly hear Laurie's story about "Justin," the student who inspired her to co-develop embedded reading, and still tear up every time. I first only knew of Laurie as one of the developers of embedded reading from an ACTFL session which I had attended in 2013. At NTPRS 2014, she was presenting a session on embedded reading, and as I entered into the room before it began, I passed by her, and upon seeing my nametag, Laurie said to me, "Keith, oh my gosh, can I get permission to include your blog post about embedded reading on my own blog?!" I was absolutely dumbstruck that: 1) although we had never met, Laurie knew who I was; 2) Laurie knew that I, some random Latin teacher, had a blog; and 3) she wanted to reference on her own blog what i had written. I think that I mumbled some type of "sure," but I cannot tell you how so valued and important I felt at that moment (I need to remember this for my own students). I have gotten to know Laurie better professionally at various conferences, and I can honestly say that she always makes me feel like a better person every time we meet. 

Carol Gaab - I feel like I cannot say enough about Carol. If you have ever attended one of Carol's presentations, you know what I am talking about. At NTPRS 2014, Carol's session on reading strategies transformed the way in which I present reading now in my classes. Carol was the first CI "guru" whom I ever heard say, "Circling gets really old really fast;" when I heard that, I wanted to run up to her and to give her a huge hug, because I had always felt that students got bored easily with circling but I thought that I had to stick with it since that was what I had first learned. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I heard her say that. Carol taught me to vary up my questions, because "the brain craves novelty." She demonstrated so many different, engaging reading strategies in the target language which not only included higher order thinking but also presented repetitions of the language in novel ways. I owe so much of my teaching style and CI strategy implementation to Carol.

I am incredibly grateful to these four people and am proud to consider them as part of my CI family tree. Who are the people whom you would consider to be part of yours? Honor them by listing their names in the comment section.

Addendum (July 20, 2017) - I have now added Linda Li to my CI family tree. Read the following post to see why!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Pre-First Day of School Jitters

Tomorrow is the first day of school for students. I have been back at work for a week now for preplanning - my classroom is all arranged (I have gone deskless this year - expect an upcoming blog post about this in the future), my syllabus and beginning-of-the-school year forms have all been printed and are ready for students, and my lesson plans for this week have been written. I am all set and am now just waiting for students to arrive tomorrow. I have been teaching for almost 20 years, so the 1st day of school routine is pretty much ingrained in me. In spite of all this, I am nervous about tomorrow.

To be fair, I always experience this the Sunday before the first day of school, so this is not a new feeling. Even after almost 20 years, I still worry:
  • what will my students be like?
  • how will they view me?
  • what will each class' chemistry be like?
  • will I do a good job?
  • am I going to have any discipline issues already on the first day?
But at the same time, as I have been doing this for almost 20 years, I also know that once students arrive and I get started, I will be fine. It is the same way I feel before presentations: I am nervous 10 minutes before, but once I begin, I feel completely relaxed.

So I guess that these jitters are all part of being a teacher. I am sure that I will have difficulty getting to sleep tonight, and then once I do get to sleep, I also expect waking up every hour due to fear of sleeping through my alarm. I also know that once I get started tomorrow with students and get back into the zone of teaching, I will say to myself "Why was I so nervous?"

So to all you 1st-year teachers (and even veterans of 25 years), you are not the only one who is nervous about the first day of school!